While Jesus’ disciples were gathering supplies for dinner, Jesus met the Samaritan Woman at the well. Mid-day, in public, they engaged in the longest theological discussion recorded in Scripture. She challenged Jesus with her theological concerns, and he seriously entertained her questions and answered them, neither dominating the conversation nor demeaning her.1 During this discussion Jesus first revealed his identity as the Messiah, favoring a woman for his revelation over his disciples. Taken seriously, and convinced of Jesus’ identity and message, she went and effectively evangelized to her whole village. She is still remembered in churches as the first Christian evangelist.
The disciples’ confusion in finding Jesus speaking to this woman shows his counter-cultural approach to women at the margins. In broad daylight he associated himself with an ethnic group the Jews disparaged, the Samaritans. At the time, Jews would not eat or drink from anything associated with a Samaritan, yet he asked her for a drink, which meant he would need to drink from her bucket. Furthermore, he entrusted to a woman theological details regarding the Messiah in an era when women did not study Torah. She was a lowly woman forced to fetch water in the heat of the day, rather than the usual mornings and evenings, because she was ostracized by her own people due to the number of husbands in her life. While tradition has attributed these men to her own loose lifestyle, it is likely that she was married as a child to an older man, and through Levirate-like laws continued to outlive the older men assigned to her in marriage. By the fifth husband, she would have been considered bad luck. Despite this, Jesus saw in her a responsive, theological mind worth engaging. In her, he saw someone worthy of being the first to learn his true identity. In her he identified an evangelist, as she enthusiastically and effectively led her entire village, both men and women, to Jesus as Messiah. May we too take seriously women considered outcasts or who are ostracized, and like Jesus, see them as the key to the future of the church!
To learn more about the cultural background of the Samaritan Woman and the Orthodox church’s remembrance of her, see: “Samaritan Sinner, Celebrated Saint: The Story of the First Christian Missionary,” by Bronwen Speedie in Mutuality: New Testament Women, December 4, 2016.
To learn more about modern day “Samaritan type women,” listen to the Mutuality Matters: Global Impact podcast interview: “Healing the Outcasts: Fistula Repair in Bangladesh” with Dr. Beatrice Ambuen-Berger.
To read about Jesus’ counter-cultural engagement, see: “Dominance: Patriarchy’s Logic,” by Mimi Haddad in Mutuality July 2021.
“Which Women Matter to God,” by Jill Lin, January 20, 2021.
- To read more about how men tend to dominate conversations with women, see J.W. Wartick, “Are Men Talking Too Much,” Mutuality (July 8, 2020).